Explosion exposes NYC's aging systems

TEXT OF STORY

Tess Vigeland: Here's today's magic number: 83. That's the age of the steam pipe that exploded yesterday in Midtown Manhattan.

It caused panic in the city, shut down streets, disrupted subway service and businesses, and reminded New Yorkers — and the rest of us — how vulnerable our aging infrastructure may be.

Marketplace's Alisa Roth has more.


Alisa Roth: The miles of steam pipes underneath the city streets are just one part of New York's geriatric infrastructure. An infrastructure that's increasingly causing trouble for the Big Apple.

But New York's not the only one. The pipes and tunnels in cities like Boston and Chicago are just as old — and just as precarious.

Preston Niblack is deputy director of the New York City Independent Budget Office. He says cities know they have to deal with equipment as it ages. But too often they don't.

Preston Niblack: It's tempting to defer actually maintaining things, and so that means that sometimes you actually end up with very old infrastructure that you're only partially using or you're relying on infrastructure that really should be replaced.

Niblack says older cities have to decide whether to ignore, upgrade or simply replace ailing systems. Newer technologies, like cable and telephone, make things worse. They add to the stress on old systems, because they're all sharing limited underground space.

Daniele Seitz follows the energy industry for the investment bank Dahlman Rose. She says cities might balk at the high cost of repairing and maintaining underground structures. And when they do upgrade those systems, she says they need to think beyond the quick fix.

Daniele Seitz: When you are upgrading, you have to think of the potential expansion, the requirement for the next 50 years.

But with so much work to be done, cities and companies will have to pick where to put their money.

In New York, I'm Alisa Roth for Marketplace.

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